How To Interpret Experiment Questions on the ACT® Science Exam

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Research summary passages include descriptions of experiments. These passages are followed by questions that ask about the purpose, procedure, and trends. Learn how to recognize this passage type and find tips for the questions that follow in this article
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During the ACT® Science test, you will be required to assess various forms of information and data on the following subjects: chemistry, biology, physics, and earth & space sciences. Based on this, the exam poses 40 multiple-choice questions. This portion of the ACT exam lasts a total of 35 minutes.  

It is important to understand that you will need to have general knowledge of the topics covered throughout the exam. However, you will not be tested on your memorization of scientific facts or knowledge. notes, “The science test stresses science skills and practices over recall of scientific content, complex mathematics skills, and reading ability.” 

Your experience in high school-level science courses should prepare you for the content covered in the ACT Science experiments section. The main objectives of this section are to test your ability to: 

  • Recognize relationships provided in the passages
  • Examine hypotheses and conclusions
  • Evaluate various elements of an experiment
  • Draw conclusions or make predictions of your own

About half of the information you will encounter on the ACT Science test will come in the form of short passages that describe specific experiments. The ACT exam calls these passage formats “research summaries.”

What Do Research Summary Passages Look Like?

A research summary passage in the ACT Science exam is a description of one or more experiments. These descriptions are sometimes accompanied by graphics. At the start of the passage, you will find a short paragraph that contextualizes the motivation or purpose behind the experiment or experiments. Each research summary will be numbered so it’s easy to keep track of.

What Kinds of Questions Follow Reading Summary Passages? 

Experiment questions on the ACT Science test focus on the hypothesis, variables, testing methods, or other factors of the experiment’s design. You will also need to answer questions about conclusions or predictions that were made as a result of the experiment. 

Some research summary questions will ask how changing a variable or procedural step would affect the results of the experiment. You will also find questions that ask you to assess the relationships between different experiments in the section. Lastly, the ACT Science experiment section also assesses your ability to read graphs, scatterplots, or charts accompanying the research summaries.

Tips for Success

  1. Practice reading graphs and evaluating trends. Questions about increasing trends, decreasing trends, and trends that may happen in the future are common.
  2. Stick to the information in the passage when answering questions. If the experiment focuses on a topic that you have a background in, avoid using outside information to predict trends or draw conclusions.

    The point of experiment questions on the ACT Science test is to focus on specific experiments. Do your best to engage with the summary since it’s your understanding of the information presented in the given passage that is tested.

  3. Make notes as you read. It is likely that the purpose of the experiment, hypothesis, variables, testing methods, and conclusions will be questioned. As you read the passage, you can underline this information. This tip will save you some time when you need the information later.
  4. Be sure that you are looking at the correct experiment when answering questions. Each experiment will be numbered, but using the wrong study to answer a question is an easy mistake to make. If the passage discusses more than one experiment, be sure that you are diligent in using the correct experiment to answer questions.

As you prepare for the ACT Science test, consider how you can prepare for the research summary passages. Get acquainted with reading graphics, using only the information provided, making notes, and referring to the correct experiment during your practice work for the ACT science experiments portion. You can use UWorld’s ACT Prep Course, which offers thousands of sample experiment questions on the ACT Science exam, detailed question explanations, and performance tracking tools. Take advantage of these test prep tools to streamline your study plan and improve your scores on the ACT Science test!

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